Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to communicate with your doubles partner the RIGHT way

Katelyn Caniford & Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributors

In honor of our 3.0 40 & Over Men's USTA team competing at Nationals this month, we wanted to tie in how vital communication is in doubles and how to create a winning method. Communication with your doubles partner is by far one of the most critical components of succeeding together as a team. Whether your partner is your best friend who you’ve played with for years or someone on your USTA team who you’re meeting for the first time, those skills will be a huge factor on whether or not the two of you will work well together in your matches.
front row (l to r): Matt Birbeck, Scott Altman, Michael Kramer, Bill Fox, Adam Stopka
back row (l to r): Ron Bassak, Curt Binder, Ron Novak, John Ragner, Steve Wilt

Often times, communication on the court can be both verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication can consist of talking between points, during points, and in between changeovers about various strategies as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents. Sometimes verbal communication can even just be helping to lift your partner up if they are struggling to get their confidence back.

Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. This could be hand signals identifying where one of you will be moving on the court, fist bumps to stay connected with each other, or simply making eye contact or giving an encouraging smile. Even if you agree not to talk during the match (some players prefer it that way), non-verbal communication is still a must. So whether it's verbal or non-verbal, let’s go over how to communicate with your partner the right way.  

·         TALK BETWEEN POINTS - In many cases, it doesn’t matter what you are saying to your partner, as long as it’s something positive, encouraging, and helpful. I know from experience that playing with someone who didn’t speak to me at all both during and in-between points is incredibly difficult and frustrating. Whether or not you are talking strategy or just playing therapist to your ailing companion, it is always helpful to speak to each other. That way both of you will be more comfortable as the match goes on and will be able to have enough trust in each other to be successful. Which brings me to my next point

·         TRUST YOUR PARTNER - If you don’t have trust in your partner’s abilities then it’s going to be extremely difficult to be on the same page with your communication skills.  A lot of times, especially in USTA you can get paired with someone that maybe isn’t at the same skill level as you, but the best advice I can give with this is, make it work! Just because your partner isn’t Serena Williams doesn’t mean they don’t have their own strengths to be successful. As their doubles partner it’s your job to build their confidence up and use their strengths to create the best possible match-up you can have. If your partner is incredibly patient during points, use that to your advantage. Get them involved in those long rallies so they can hopefully set you up to hit a winner. If their weakness is the net, maybe try having them stand at the baseline with you so you can be the one to go up and play the net.

·         STAY POSITIVE - There is nothing worse than having a partner that’s negative about every little thing that goes wrong or who knocks your confidence down. Doubles is about teamwork. In order to work together as a team, both people need to have a positive attitude about the match. If you screw up a point, high five your partner and get the next one. Even if your partner is hitting every single ball out, the best thing you can do is keep them calm. Help them to get their confidence back by lots of encouragement and really showing that you believe in them and their abilities. Being as positive as possible even in the worst of situations is the best remedy for a partner who is struggling. Tennis matches can go on for a while. There’s always enough time to come back from any terrible situation as long as you have the right attitude.

·         SHOW FRUSTRATION - If things aren’t going well for you or your partner is having difficulty, one of the worst ways to react is by visibly showing those frustrations. If you are unhappy with something, do your best to change it. Again this means encouraging your partner even if on the inside you want to scream. If you’re playing bad, don’t show your opponents your frustration. Instead, slow your game down and focus on trying to be consistent until you can get your confidence back. That way, your partner doesn’t start to deteriorate as well.

·         STOP TALKING TO YOUR PARTNER - Duh! You could be beyond annoyed with your partner, feel the heat of a partner that's frustrated with you, or you could simply be cruising along in a match before you realize your communication has completely deteriorated. How to prevent this? The obvious solution is to remain talking, even if it's about your weekend plans. The more difficult solution is to keep talking when one partner is frustrated. Despite being intimidated, I once walked over to my obviously frustrated partner who clearly didn’t want to talk and sparked up a fun, non-tennis related conversation...guess what it worked and we were able to turn the match around!

·         TEACH - There’s nothing I hate more than having a doubles partner that feels they need to correct what I’m doing wrong when they’re not my tennis pro, especially when that partner could use a little help on their own game. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to sit back and watch your partner make the same mistake over and over without a little help, but it’s imperative you approach it encouragingly. It’s best to use ‘we’ in situations when you want to help your partner improve: “We might have better luck lobbing the net player.” “We should try laying off of our shots to reduce the margin of errors.”

Now here's the biggest tip-have fun! Remember that you and your partner are out there playing together because you both love tennis! Even when things seem tough, as long as you help each other, and have fun, you're already setting yourself up for success.

 *Follow us on Facebook to get a first look at new posts, pictures and on-going events or visit us at towpathtennisshop.com and check out the latest arrivals in the shop!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Quick Fixes for Tennis Strokes

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro
We all know the feeling. We’re shanking our forehand long, hitting serves into the net, and it feels like nothing we do is working. We start questioning our game that we’ve worked so hard on and begin to doubt ourselves. However, even though it may not seem like it, everyone has those days where everything feels off. Sometimes even the littlest adjustments can make the biggest difference in regards to our strokes. Here are a few quick-fix tips on your different shots that can help you get your confidence back!

Overall Tennis Game

Use a mirror or have someone film you! 

Sounds simple enough right? Mirror your groundstrokes. Sometimes it is difficult for us to figure out exactly what we are doing wrong. In many instances, it can be difficult to pinpoint just what part of our motion is suffering or that we are doing incorrectly. 
Quick Fix - One of the best ways to figure that out is to practice your strokes in front of a mirror so you can see what your form looks like. Another great option is to have a friend film you! This way, you are able to watch yourself and see where you need to make corrections.

The Forehand
Figure out where you are making contact with the ball.
      In many cases, when we feel like a shot isn’t working, we start to get hesitant. This oftentimes leads to hitting the ball way later then we should. Sometimes we even end up getting too close to the ball or too far away which can really make it difficult to have a proper follow through on our shot. 
      Quick Fix - Figure out where you are making contact. Are you hitting the ball too far behind you and you’re falling back? Do you feel yourself running into the ball with your arm too close to your side? Then the answer is simple. Make contact with the ball in front of your body and step into your shot. Make sure your dominant arm is close to your body but not so much so that your elbow is glued to your side. If it helps, keep your other arm out in front of you for balance. In the picture below we can see Roger Federer making contact with the ball in front of his body and shifting his weight forward.  
      The Backhand 
      Use “the wall” drill.

      For many players, the backhand can be the most complicated or difficult shot to execute. 
Quick Fix - A good option for when your backhand feels like it is suffering is to line your body up against a wall or a door and practice the motion of your stroke. To begin, stand in front of a wall or even a fence and get into position to hit a backhand. When you practice your swing, don’t hit the racket against the wall but instead keep your string and face of the racket in line with the wall and practice your full backhand motion. This will teach you how to get the spin on the ball that you are looking to achieve. 

      The Volleys

      Figure out where your feet are going. Are you stepping forward or cross stepping into the ball?

One of the biggest problems I believe people encounter with their volleys is not moving their feet. Many times I see players volleying with their feet straight underneath them and not moving forward into their shot at all. 
Quick Fix - Move those feet! Volleying is all about where the rest of your body is going in relation to your shot. If you are not in position to hit the volley correctly, it does not matter how good your stroke is. Take a moment to evaluate your shots and think about if you are either cross stepping or moving forward into the ball. A good way to do this is after you take your shot, freeze and look down at where your feet are. Are they in the same position as they were when you began the stroke? Or are your feet in front of your body like they should be? 

The Overhead

Make sure you are behind the ball.

One of the biggest reasons people miss their overheads is because they are not in the correct position. 
Quick Fix - Get into position as soon as possible and make sure that you are behind the ball when you are making contact. As soon as you see your opponent opening their strings to try and lob is when you need to start getting into position. This means turning your body and shuffling backwards so you can be lined up to hit the overhead. Make sure you are behind the ball enough that you can propel yourself forward. It is much easier to go forward into the overhead rather than having to backup more to be in the right position. Finding the exact point where you want to hit the ball will help too so you can focus on hitting that point and letting your body do the rest. 

The Serve

      Keep your head, neck, and chest up through the serve.

A common problem I see with the serve is players not keeping their head, neck, and chest up when they are following through. It is very easy especially in a long match for fatigue to set in which then results in your upper body falling during the course of the serve. In most cases, this then causes the ball to land in the net. 
Quick Fix - Keep looking at the ball through contact. This way you are forced to keep your head up while the ball is traveling to the other side of the court. 

      Here's one more quick tip--write these tips down! It's quite the task to remind yourself how to fix a stroke when your game is already spiraling out of control. So do yourself a huge favor by grabbing a couple of index cards and write down some keywords to give yourself that little mental kick; Backhand=Wall, Volley=Step in, Serve=Look up, etc. Now go out and kill it!

     *Follow us on Facebook to get a first look at new posts, pictures and on-going events or visit us at towpathtennisshop.com and check out the latest arrivals in the shop!